In a role reminiscent of the twitchy and self-centred Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, Jesse Eisenberg again plays a tech pioneer driven to succeed. This time the character is leavened by being the son of a Russian émigré who has decided to team up with his genius/ASD cousin Anton, played by fake-balding Alexander Skarsgard.
The dissatisfied duo concoct a scheme to build a high-frequency, fibre-optic data line which will eclipse their competitors and undercut their fearsome employer Eva Torres, played convincingly by Salma Hayek. Michael Mando of Better Call Saul rounds out the cast as the expert project engineer who becomes a sort of surrogate big brother to Vincent, as the project grows arms and legs and the spectre of illness threatens completion.
Kim Nguyen’s screenplay is predicated upon a modern concept, but he chooses to sidestep any overt references to the process. Terminology is kept to a minimum and all the audience is told is that Anton must reduce the speed of the line by one millisecond, whilst Vincent has to arrange all the land deals and associated agreements to drill.
The drama comes in the form of a sudden illness deployed in a rote manner to force one of the characters into proximity with mortality. These logical and empirical capitalists are forced to reconsider the implications of their plans, but the change in mood is poorly telegraphed and the switcheroo seems unearned.
There is a scene in which the brilliant Anton is lectured by a waitress about the source of traders’ investments and he is supposed to undergo a cathartic moment in which he realises there is a missing variable in his equation, namely the source of labour. Whilst it’s plausible that a premier scientific mind would be unwilling or uninterested in countenancing the plight of the poor, it seems unlikely that they would be genuinely unaware of this aspect of trading.
Conversely, Eisenberg’s Vincent undergoes a convincing and bruising transformation, from free-wheeling negotiator to broken and betrayed entrepreneur. Sadly, this performance is not backed up during a third act which clumsily inserts an immovable character not swayed by money and representing the purity of the land and something greater than capital.
It is hard to categorise Nguyen’s film, since there are elements of tech thriller, and the score by Yves Gourmeur certainly implies intrigue and suspicion. The double act between Skarsgard and Eisenberg has potential as they complement each other both physically and emotionally, but this cannot surmount the lacklustre and directionless screenplay.
@Edinburgh Filmhouse from Friday 9 August 2019